Beer tanks: Thinking big with beer

Susanna Forbes

Susanna Forbes

21 April 2017

If your place sells loads of beer and you fancy something huge and spectacular to draw in the crowds, then you could be in the market for a tank. Susanna Forbes investigates a growing trend

Whether you call it Tankovna, Tankové Pivo or Brewery Fresh, the trend for tank beer is growing big time. Meantime is set to increase its tank sites by over 50% in 2017 and a new London restaurant – Tank & Paddle – has named itself after this method of dispense.

Meanwhile, in Manchester’s Spinningfields, Albert’s Schloss, Roy Ellis’s vast, staggeringly gorgeous bar/restaurant, sells almost a tank of Pilsner Urquell a day, making it the biggest pilsner-selling venue outside the Czech Republic.

It’s not only for vast venues either. Krušovice tanks form part of the bar backdrop at KuPP in Paddington, a 120-cover Scandi-inspired bar/café. Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen sports Meantime tanks, crafting a special ‘flatbread and beer’ menu for their unveiling; Pilsner Urquell’s has just landed in the bistro-style café in York’s Museum Gardens, The Star Inn; and the ETM Group goes so far as to pipe beer up through 10 floors into its new rooftop restaurant and bar, Aviary, in the Royal London House Hotel.

Instead of a huge selection for the majority of drinkers, now we can offer a greater beer for the majority

Andy Wilde

So what is it that makes tank beer so attractive, and could it be right for you? Let’s take a look.
In the Czech Republic, tanks of beer are insanely popular – and not limited to the world of pubs.

Neighbourhood restaurants boast them as much as bars do. Here in the UK, brewpubs and brewery visitor centres have long served beer direct from tanks – Tapped Leeds and Howling Hops in Hackney Wick are two striking examples. However, it wasn’t until Meantime took the plunge in 2013 at The Grove in Balham that an outsider’s beer commandeered a bar tap fresh from a tank.

So why bother? In a word: flavour. This beer is fresh. Mainly used for lagers and pale ales so far, hop flavours come through subtly, malt notes are discernible and the carbonation is elegant. That’s not to say that other beers on tap are faulty; it’s just that tank beers haven’t come into contact with oxygen, and the majority are unpasteurised, so it’s the nearest thing to being at the actual brewery itself.

‘These tanks allow us to give our drinkers the freshest possible pint,’ says Innis & Gunn MD David Hall. ‘Instead of a huge selection for the minority [of drinkers], now we can offer a greater beer for the majority,’ says Andy Wilde, manager at Budvar-tank hosts, the atmospheric Oast House also in Spinningfields.

Plus, of course, there’s the drama of them too. Evidence suggests that consumers are drawn to the tanks, that they’re happy to pay that little bit more, and that, overall, wet sales head upwards (see box, right).

Diving in
From the brewery’s point of view, tanks are also about customer immersion. ‘We are able to tell drinkers the Staropramen story,’ enthuses Rob Hollis of Molson Coors, owners of Staropramen. Back in the Molson fold for a year, Hollis is keen to consolidate Staropramen’s position as the UK’s number-one Czech beer, and sees tanks as a firm part of that strategy.

‘It’s been a godsend, space-wise,’ adds Wilde. The Oast House gets through a hugely impressive five tanks a week.

With each tank holding the equivalent of 10 50-litre kegs, that’s 50 kegs he doesn’t need to store and then manhandle into service.

Tanks aren’t going to work everywhere. You need both volume and commitment. After all, you’ve got to sell at least 500 litres in five days – that’s nearly 900 pints, equating to 180 pints a day.

As a result, installations tend to be in lively, wet-led pubs or bars, or smaller establishments where a small beer range ensures that the focus is fixed firmly on the tank beers.

Tanks are not cheap. So more often than not, the brewer pays for the installation (which easily comes in at five figures), in exchange for a three-year commitment from the venue to sell its beer. Tanks can be as big as 2,000 litres, though 500 litres is by far the most common.

Like Noah’s Ark, tanks tend to be installed in pairs. That way, when one runs out, supply can switch to the other. Think of it as ‘bag-in-tank’, with dispense being by air pressure squeezing seven-layered bags holding the beer.

Tanks aren’t going to work everywhere. You need both volume and commitment. You’ve got to sell at least 500 litres in five days

Refill arrives by tanker, via companies such as Tankbeer (see box below). They swap out old bags, sanitise the lines, and fill new bags, often at the crack of dawn, so that the hose system that snakes through, connecting tanker to tank, doesn’t disrupt service.

‘Extras’ from Tankbeer’s service include telemetry, where a handy phone app can instantly report on the level in each tank. They may not be for everyone, but those who have tanks seem to be won over by the addition to their business. ‘If we could, we would do it [install tanks] everywhere,’ says Kemp. Hall agrees. Depending on site suitability, he hopes to include Innis & Gunn tanks in all future Beer Kitchens. Budvar, Staropramen and Krušovice all have plans, as does Meantime, with over 20 new tank sites on the 2017 schedule.

It looks like tanks will be rolling across the country in the coming years.

Five steps to success
Think a tank might be for you? Here’s how to make the most of your new arrival.

Tanks by numbers

According to Cardinal’s 2016 in-bar research for Pilsner Urquell, almost
a fifth of drinkers visited the venues in question because they had heard about, and wanted to try, the Pilsner Urquell tanks.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, drinkers in places with a PU tank were almost twice as likely to order Pilsner Urquell as those in draft outlets.

But the tank isn’t simply cannibalising sales from other drinks. The Oast House ran for four years before its Budvar tanks arrived in May 2016. Stats for the 12 month period to November 2016 showed its total liquor sales were up 6%.

With its Staropramen tanks, The Newsroom confirms this. ‘Overall sales for the same nine-week period, May to July 2016 vs 2015, increased by 6.7% over all categories,’ says Arthur Mustard of owners Merchant Leisure. ‘The tank installation is sure to be contributory.’

1 On purchasing your beer tank, decide whether you want to partner with a brewery or go it alone, as the ETM Group has done at London’s Aviary, with plans to serve a rotating selection alongside its own Long Arm beers. ‘This gives smaller breweries the chance to offer up their beer in this format,’ says Long Arm’s Zoë Knowles.

2 Location is key. The Newsroom in Edinburgh has its Krušovice tanks bang in the centre of its floorspace. Many others, including Galvin HOP and Innis & Gunn’s Beer Kitchens, suspend the tanks above the bar. ‘It adds theatre to the experience,’ says Hall.

3 To draw the hordes and to justify the premium pricing, make it memorable. ‘It’s about the quality of the serve, provenance and history,’ says Charlotte Kemp, director of Mission Mars and the Flying Pig & Lobster groups, owners of Albert’s Schloss and The Viking.

4 ‘Ensure communication to the consumer is clear and engaging,’ says M&B’s Ben Lockwood. The Minories in London has a striking brewing graphic behind gleaming tanks.

5 Training is essential, focusing on technique, serve and the culture. Pilsner Urquell and Staropramen offer specific courses, championing the serve, food matching as well as heritage and taste – ensuring drinkers get the full Czech experience.



Case study: The Viking & Budvar

Budvar & Viking' Simon Rimmer
Budvar & Viking' Simon Rimmer

‘The beer is the heart of the pub,’ says Ross Robinson, ops manager at The Viking, the latest pub from Flying Pig & Lobster, the group co-owned by celebrity chef Simon Rimmer, Revolution Bars founders Roy Ellis and Neil Macleod, and Charlotte Kemp.

Located in leafy West Kirby on the Wirrall, The Viking is sizeable and stylish, with a light Scandinavian feel. It’s family-friendly with a strong food offer. Wanting something distinctive on the beer front, the team partnered with Budvar, trekked to České Budĕjovice as part of their training, and were determined to bring some of the experience back home.

Budvar tanks flank the bar entrance, beer is piped to taps centred on the bar, opposite a prominent ‘Tank Opened on…’ sign, and served in schooners. Staff are trained on serve, flavour and heritage, and offer the traditional Czech range of serves, from the foam-laden mlíko through to the hladinka.

To ensure iced glasses, a cool-running glasswasher has been sourced, plus a designated glass fridge-freezer. The beer’s brewery-to-pub journey is illustrated in the 2017 drinks list, and beer dinners
are on the cards as part of the pub’s Wirral Gourmet Evenings event series. Robinson’s top tip: ‘Immerse yourself in it – glassware, POS – and make it an experience.’

From zero to hero
Tankbeer, the company behind the majority of UK tank installations, completely illustrates
the rapid growth of the sector. These are the guys with the skilled teams delivering at frightening o’clock so as not to disturb service.

In less than four years, Tankbeer has gone from nowhere to delivering over seven million pints-worth of beer per year.

Now employing its own Brewmaster, if like the ETM group you decide to install your own tanks, Tankmaster can advise which breweries are in a position to supply you with beer.

So, having installed dozens of tanks, does director Alexei Weschta have an inspirational favourite? Duck & Rice, Alan Yau’s Soho gastropub.

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